The Ultimate Manual to Scripting in Google Sheets

If you’re looking to learn scripting in Google Sheets, you’re in the right place.

Google Scripting, also known as Google Apps Scripts, is a Javascript-based rapid application development platform that allows you to improve and enhance the functionality of various Google Workspace apps.

This article talks specifically about scripting in Google Sheets because it’s a robust application with lots of potential for custom apps and scripts to improve data processing and user engagement.

Let’s get started.

What is Scripting in Google Sheets Anyway?

Scripting in Google Sheets is a part of the broader Google Scripting platform. To understand how it works, you must first get a quick introduction to Google Scripting.

Google Scripting is a rapid application development platform that allows you to use Javascript to enhance the functionality of various Google Workspace apps like Sheets, Docs, Slides, Forms, and Sites.

This includes enhancements such as creating new functions and formulae, using custom dialogs, sidebars, etc.

Google Scripts is a cloud platform that allows you to create and modify scripts from your web browser. This means you can access it from anywhere and don’t need to download any application for scripting.

You can use Google Scripts to create standalone scripts linked with any Google app or application-bound scripts explicitly designed for Sheets, Docs, Forms, or any other Google Workspace app.

For standalone scripts, you can use the Google Scripts platforms. But since we’re focusing on Google Sheets in this article, we’ll talk about application-bound scripts explicitly designed for Google Sheets.

In Google Sheets, you get a backend interface for creating and managing your scripts. You can access this interface from Tools→ Script Editor in any Google Sheets document.

Remember, application-bound scripts in Google Sheets are linked to specific documents/files. This means if you create a script for a Google Sheets file, you won’t be able to use it for other files or spreadsheets.

However, you can copy the script and paste it to use it for as many files as you want.

Before moving any further, let’s discuss some of the main benefits of scripting in Google Sheets and the ways you can use it to enhance your work.

The Benefits Of Scripting In Google Sheets

The core idea behind Google Scripting in Google Sheets is to allow users to create more efficient ways to process data, save time, and improve user experience.

Here are some of the main benefits of scripting in Google Sheets.

Enables Automation In Google Sheets
Scripting allows you to automate your work, reduce manual errors, save time, and increase productivity.

If you regularly work with multiple data sheets where you have to filter a specific data type or combine various data sets in a separate sheet, you can do it using Google Scripts in Sheets.

Similarly, any data handling process in Google Sheets that involves repetitive steps like sorting, arranging, filtering, or merging data can be automated with a simple script in your Google Sheets file.

When applied to a large data set, these scripts get the job done much faster and minimize errors and inaccuracies.

Allows You To Enhance The Functionality Of Google Sheets
Google Sheets is a robust spreadsheet solution with numerous options and features for data processing, handling, and management.

However, scripting allows you to take Google Sheets’ utility to the next level.

You can significantly improve its utility by adding new features and options that make your work simpler. For example, Sheets already has a vast range of functions/formulae for various data processing goals.

But Google Scripts allow you to create new custom functions/formulae if the existing range doesn’t perform the tasks you want. Not only that, you can share these custom functions as add-ons with other Sheets users as well.

Similarly, Scripts allow you to create dialogs for alerts, prompts, or custom functions. You can also make your dialogs interactive by using text fields that users need to fill.

In short, Google Scripts make Google Sheets, which is already a robust application, much more valuable.

Create Engaging User Interface Experiences
Google Scripts allow you to use various user-interface elements for triggering scripts. This results in a more engaging user experience than dry scripts.

For example, you can add images or shapes to a spreadsheet and trigger a script when users click it.

Similarly, you can add custom menus for specific spreadsheets to keep the essential options at your fingertips.

Facilitates Integration Between Google Apps
Google Scripts is the standard scripting language in all Google Workspace apps. It helps you easily integrate Google Sheets with other Google applications such as Gmail, Calendar, Forms, Docs, Chat, etc.

There are unlimited possibilities of what you can do with scripts using different Google apps. For example, you can copy, move, or delete files from Google Drive through a script in Google Sheets.

Similarly, you can send an email from your Gmail account using the information in a Google Sheet. This feature helps generate daily, weekly, or monthly alerts for different organizational data/stats.

Another excellent way to use Google Scripts is by integrating Google Sheets with Google Forms. This allows you to create forms based on specific spreadsheet data. Moreover, you can use triggers in Google Scripts to perform various tasks within Google Sheets. For example, you could enable a script on form submission. So whenever a user submits a form, Google Spreadsheet would automatically run your script.

These are just some of the benefits of scripting in Google Sheets.

There are unlimited ways you can use its functionality to enhance your Google Sheets data processing and management.

How Scripting in Google Sheets Works

Scripting in Google Sheets works just like any other Google Workspace app. However, Sheets offers a much more comprehensive range of functions and possibilities than other Google apps because of its native features.

Sheets manages data through a combination of rows and columns. This opens up unlimited data combinations and allows you to utilize scripts to perform numerous functions.

You can programmatically create, read, and edit Google Sheets using special APIs in Google Apps Script.

There are two main types of scripts when it comes to scripting in Google Sheets.

Standalone Scripts can create, modify, or delete a spreadsheet if the script user has the necessary permissions.

Bound Scripts that are linked to specific sheets and can only work with them. Such scripts have special permissions to alter the user interface of the spreadsheet and offer various additional options compared to standalone scripts.

The Spreadsheet service treats Google Sheets as a grid, operating with two-dimensional arrays. To retrieve the data from the spreadsheet, you must get access to the spreadsheet where the data is stored, get the range in the spreadsheet that holds the data, and then get the values of the cells. Apps Script facilitates access to the data by reading structured data in the spreadsheet and creating JavaScript objects for them.

Google Sheets Script Editor

Google Sheets provides you with a backend scripting platform, called the Script Editor, on the cloud, using which you can create bound scripts for your sheets. The Script Editor uses Javascript for scripting and has a simple interface to create new scripts or modify your past scripts.

Similarly, you can use it to create various triggers for your scripts, modify triggers, and manage triggers associated with different scripts.

The Script Editor allows you to create new projects for different scripting goals. In addition, each project can include multiple scripts. For example, if you create multiple scripts for a Google Sheets file to automate different spreadsheet components, you can save all of them in a single project for better organization.

This way, you can create dedicated projects in the script editor for every Google Sheets file. This makes it easier to manage your scripts and simplifies your job if you want to copy or duplicate a script for another file.

Every project in the Script Editor comes with a unique script ID that you can use while using and integrating the script.

Google Sheets Macros

Macros is another way you can execute Google Apps Scripts from the Google Sheets UI. Using macros, you can record and duplicate a series of UI interactions that you define. In addition, you can associate your recorded macros with a keyboard shortcut.

This way, you can activate it from your keyword the next time you perform the same task in Google Sheets. In addition, when you create macros, Google Sheet automatically creates a separate Apps Script function that replicates the recorded steps. This function is added to its Google Sheet as a bound script.

Google Sheets Custom Functions

Custom functions are formulae or functions in Google Sheets like the default functions such as SUM or AVERAGE. When you create a custom function in Google Sheets, it is saved as an Apps Script that you can use for that particular sheet.

For example, you could create a function that converts km into meters and use it in a spreadsheet cell to apply it to your data set.

How to Get Started With Scripting in Google Sheets

Scripting in Google Sheets does not require any software installation or download. Instead, you can do it from your Google Sheets script editor for bound scripts and Google Apps Scripts platform for standalone scripts. Both the options are entirely based in the cloud, which means you can access them from anywhere, any time you want.

Here are some of the initial steps to get started with scripting in Google Sheets.

Step 1: Acquire Relevant Knowledge And Skills

Scripting in Google Sheets doesn’t require any expert-level coding skills. However, you still need to be proficient in Javascript and have a clear understanding of its fundamentals. Similarly, you should also be familiar with Google Sheets and its APIs.

If you want to learn Javascript, google recommends the JS tutorials on Codeacademy. Similarly, for Google Sheets and APIs, Google recommends going through its help documentation.

If you’re new to scripting in Google Sheets, it’s also a good idea to go through Google’s beginner playlist that covers all the fundamentals of scripting in Google Workspace.

Without this knowledge, you won’t be able to use the scripting options in Google Sheets effectively.

Step 2: Determine The Script Type You Want To Create

Once you have the necessary skills to create a Google script, you need to determine your script’s goal and type.

This is important because your script’s type would determine where you create it. For example, you’ll create standalone scripts on the Google Apps Script platform. For bound scripts, you’ll use the script editor in Google Sheets.

Step 3: Use The Script Editor In Google Sheets

To create bound scripts in Google Sheets, you need to access the script editor.

Here’s how you can use it.

  1. Sign in to your Google account.
  2. Open the Google Sheets file in which you want to create a script.
  3. Click on Tools→ Script Editor. The script editor will automatically create a project for your Google Sheets file.
  4. Click on the project title to rename it.
  5. Click on Project Settings in the side menu to configure your project’s preferences and access its unique ID.
  6. To start scripting, click on the Editor in your side menu.
  7. Enter your script in the editor.
  8. Click on the disk icon to save your project.

Step 4: Deploy Your Project

Once your script is ready, you can now deploy it as a web app, add-on, library, or executable API. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Click on Deploy in the top right corner of your screen.
  2. Choose New Deployment.
  3. Click Select Type.
  4. Choose your deployment type.
  5. Click Deploy.

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Bryan Wise
Bryan Wise,
Former VP of IT at GitLab

Incredible companies use Nira